The first thing my future husband said upon meeting my dog, was “how long do they usually live?” At five years old, Zola had proven mostly indestructible thus far.
“Probably forever,” I said.
Alex was “not a dog person” so I tried to ease the transition as much as possible, letting them peer at each other between her kennel bars like opponents before a boxing match.
For Halloween, I dressed her like a cat. “See?” I said. “Now you can like her.”
After we got married Zola was evicted from the bedroom and forced to sleep in her kennel. She protested on a nightly basis, crying and wailing like a banshee.
“Maybe we could let her sleep just outside the door,” Alex finally suggested.
Everyone was happier with this arrangement-- until we forgot to shut the door one night and woke to find Zola beached on Alex’s side of the bed with a satisfied look on her face. It was so obvious he’d lost this battle that we didn’t even discuss it, and just bought a plush dog bed that matched our duvet.
Against his wishes, Alex eventually embraced the pure joy of being greeted at the door by a wagging tail and hopeful eyes. There was a little more grey around Zola’s face by then, but she still acted like a puppy, dragging a mangled toy around just in case we felt like playing with her.
Then I took her to the vet. It was a routine visit, but there was a minor test and a follow-up appointment and a scary word.
“We can buy her a few months,” the vet said “but we won’t be able to get all of it.”
That night, we both cried. “She’s supposed to live to be thirteen,” I said, finally answering Alex’s question. “Not eight.”
After Zola’s surgery we agreed to pamper her until the end, giving her treats and toys and previously prohibited access to the couch. We braced ourselves for tragedy, but a year passed and we began wondering whether we might need to stop hand-feeding her bits of steak from our dinner plates. The vet had said three or four months, but now he said “It’s not coming back, which is unexpected but not impossible.”
Zola looked smug, just like when we’d found her in the middle of our bed, the smeared remains of a chocolate bar spread across the sheets like a murder scene. Or how she’d acted the first night we let her in the bedroom, then onto the couch, like it was all part of her plan because she knew what was best for us.
“Thirteen years,” Alex said. “It still won’t be enough.”